Archive for March, 2013

Our front door in Antigua

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013


Olivia and I in Antigua, and the front door of the house where we lived when I fostered her in 2003.

Us in 2003.

For us, no visit to Antigua is complete without a pilgrimage to this place.

So happy to be here! ~


The next visit

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I feel guilty even writing this but I’m gearing up for another trip to Guatemala. For close to a decade, I’ve promised myself that one of these years I’d be in Antigua for Semana Santa, the holy week that leads up to Easter. That year finally has come. Only Olivia and I are going; my husband and Mateo will hold down the fort here. For the past weeks, I’ve been accumulating small gifts for Olivia’s family there, which is always fun. By now I know their favorite colors and tastes, the things they like and what they need. Our gigantic suitcase is filled.

The best part is putting together the photo album from the previous year’s visit. I love watching Olivia and her family page through it together, laughing at some remembered event—Dulce getting a ribbon woven into her hair, or Santiago eating an ice cream cone at Pollo Campero. Everyone will remark on how tall Olivia is compared with last year, and how her hair is still beautiful, but different. I’ll be amazed at how much her brother and sister have grown up, and delighted to see the family look happy and healthy.

A big part of loving someone, I think, is sharing a history with them. How grateful I am that we’re able to help Olivia create a history with her birth family. How lucky I am to watch it develop.



New book about international adoption, “Carried in Our Hearts”

Monday, March 18th, 2013

I’m thrilled to announce that Adoption Under One Roof blogger Lisa S has contributed an essay to a new and important book about international adoption, Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption – Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents. Authored by Dr. Jane Aronson and published by Tarcher, the book will be released on April 18, and is available for pre-order now, in both hard cover and Kindle formats.

Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption comprises a collection of essays written by adoptive parents whose families have been cared for by Dr. Aronson, aka “the orphan doctor,” during the past 20 years. The stories reveal the deep and complex emotions felt by adoptive parents, and will resonate with anyone who has embarked on this transformative journey. The chapters are divided into ten thematic sections–“The Decision,” “The Journey,” “The Moment We Met”–each introduced with an essay by Dr. Aronson. Throughout the book, Dr. Aronson discusses the arc of her life, from pediatrician, to adoptive mother, to founder of the international foundation, Worldwide Orphans; and her ongoing commitment to the “children left behind.”

For each book you purchase before April 18, Tarcher will donate $1 to Worldwide Orphans. Going forward, a portion of the book’s proceeds will continue to benefit the foundation.

Order your copy of Carried in Our Hearts today! I did, and cannot wait to read it. Particularly the contribution by Lisa S!

Congratulations! ~

Image Credit: Tarcher Publishing


Climbing Volcano Pacaya

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Before I forget, I want to post about our recent ascent of Volcano Pacaya, my first ever volcano climb. Our friend, Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations, made the arrangements; she hired the guide and private shuttle through The Old Town Outfitters, in Antigua.

Our group numbered seven: Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I; and two other US adoptive moms with sons the exact age of Mateo—eight years old and all energy. Six of us made it to the top; one turned back and couldn’t finish.

It’s a tough climb! Much tougher than I thought it would be, and far more rigorous than the reviews on Trip Advisor led me to believe. We set off from Antigua at 8 AM, and didn’t return until 4 in the afternoon. Total hiking time was about three hours. The remainder was the bus shuttle, the getting ready, and the recovery. If you can request a particular guide, ask for Wilbur, an ultra-fit, uber-capable, bilingual triathlete who led us on an excursion our sons will never forget. Lava formations! A sunken sauna! Marshmallows roasted over naturally red-hot rocks! Not to mention the wild race to get down the mountain and earn the title of first to reach the finish. I’ve never used the word “pell-mell” in a sentence before, but that sums up the descent, exactly.


On the shuttle ride home, Wilbur admitted that guides at Old Town Outfitter lead climbs tougher than the ones taken by other companies, because that’s what their clients prefer. No wonder I slept like a rock that night. But don’t be alarmed: You’re probably in better shape than I am, and, regardless, Wilbur can tailor the hike according to your fitness level. Besides, there’s no shame in turning back if that’s what feels right.

A few tips:

Rent the walking stick. You’ll need it. You pay five quetzales from a local little boy or girl who will greet you the minute you arrive on-site. If you don’t thank me on the way up Pacaya, your knees will thank me on the way down.

Bring a substantial snack. Old Town supplies a delicious lunch, but if you’re like me, you need to nibble. Pack some power bars and fruit.

Carry more water than you think you will need. Two liters per person was not too much. Don’t forget a hat. Sunscreen. Sunglasses. If you’re there in dry season, the sun will blaze.

Wear sturdy hiking shoes and long pants. The lava is sharp, and the volcanic soil dusty. Two of our group members wore bandannas over their mouths to protect their lungs. I wish I’d thought of that.

The photo above shows the boys standing in the sunken sauna, which actually is some kind of subterranean hot-air vent. They thanked us Moms for making them wear long pants because their legs were toasting. (Don’t worry: They stayed in only a second.) And above that, Mateo cautiously roasts one of the many marshmellows he consumed while I was distracted taking pictures. Below, near the summit, he and I pose with my walking stick, victorious.

Climbing Pacaya stands out as a memorable highlight of our February 2013 trip. Do it if you have the chance! ~


“Somewhere Between”

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Meanwhile, back in California, 15 parents in our adoption group gathered on Saturday for a screening of Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary about four teen girls adopted from China, Somewhere Between. I wrote about the movie last June, with a link to the YouTube trailer.

Somewhere Between was far more powerful and provocative than I expected, based on the lukewarm review by Jeannette Catsoulis I’d read in the New York Times. Although now that I think about it, Catsoulis made similar critical observations about Craig Juntunen’s new documentary, Stuck. Do I detect a pattern? In any case, from the NY Times:

Shining a relentlessly rosy light on international adoption and the policies that enable it, “Somewhere Between” presents an effortlessly moving but superficial profile of four bright Chinese girls and their adoptive American families.

Inspired by her own adoption of a Chinese infant, the director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, chooses a soft-focus approach that never digs very deeply into each teenager’s situation. All four appear to have loving surrogate families, but we barely hear from them, and their motives for the adoption remain veiled. Similarly, though China’s one-child policy is blamed for the surge in availability of baby girls after 1979, the truth is more complicated and would have made for a more nuanced and enlightening narrative.

In the lively discussion that followed the screening, our group did not see a “relentlessly rosy light” shining on international adoption. Quite the opposite. We saw adopted teenagers grappling with the same questions, pain, and conflict about identity we’ve witnessed in our own kids. True, these young women are, as Catsoulis writes, “articulate and impressively well-adjusted subjects”—and kudos to them for being fabulous—but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t challenging. In a poignant scene early in the film, one of the girls touches her pierced ears, saying that she remembers her birth mother piercing her ears, and those holes are the only evidence she has that her birth mother exists. Later, a girl sobs as she describes her need to excel at everything as a way of compensating for being abandoned. Finally, toward the movie’s end, after meeting one teen’s birth family, when everyone else in her family is crying, the young woman doesn’t cry at all. It’s as though her emotions overwhelm her, leaving her unable to react.

What we saw were well-adjusted girls who, every day of their lives, cope with issues of abandonment, racial identity, belonging, and isolation. In other words, the same issues many adoptive families and children face.

On a side note: The cohesion and unity of the Chinese adoptive community made a big impression on us. After the screening, we vowed to do our best to keep our Guatemalan adoptive community active and together, and to dedicate ourselves to creating resources for our children where none may exist.

Somewhere Between is a film I need to watch several times, in order to learn every lesson it can teach. I encourage you to attend a screening of the movie or buy or rent it on DVD. If you watch with a group, allot adequate time to discuss. If not for the call of family obligations, our group might still be talking.


Image credit: Courtesy Linda Goldstein Knowlton



Mateo’s new suit

Friday, March 1st, 2013

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I’m Catholic, and my husband and I are raising our kids Catholic. What does that mean, exactly? A lot of things, which I won’t go into here because I believe every religion is valid and to be respected, as is the choice of no religion at all, by the way, and I’m not telling this story as a platform to discuss my faith.

No, my reason for bringing up Catholicism is to share the experience of buying for my son Mateo his very own First Holy Communion suit, from the charming purveyor of First Holy Communion suits in the photo above, who practices his fashion genius somewhere in the depths of the municipal mercado in Antigua, Guatemala.

In February 2012, Mateo and I had bought a suit from the same distinguished gent, intending to save it for the Sacrament this April. What we hadn’t counted on was Mateo’s growth spurt, which  steered the original suit pants and jacket dangerously toward clown costume territory.

But try finding the same tailor in the maze of the mercado! My remembered directions sounded like this: “Walk down the right side aisle, through the section with the pirated DVDs, past the candles and flowers and soccer balls, turn left at the section with the raw meat hanging, through the wrapping paper and baskets and candy, past the shoes and wallets and leather belts, beyond the place with the sacks of rice and beans and the guy who sells machetes. Somewhere around that.”

Fortunately, the lady in the First Communion dress section knew exactly where the tailor who sold First Communion suits was headquartered, and she kindly escorted us to the proper stall. Success!

Not shown here are the suit’s handsome complementary items: the white ruffled shirt, the black bow tie. For that, we’ll have to wait for Mateo’s First Holy Communion “big reveal.”

Stay tuned. ~